For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life. For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 49 years old and I recently had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring. In early February, I got the results of the latest PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing. Latest PSA test in April gave another, lower reading of 3.0 - So all's well? I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?
Perhaps the most common reactions to being told you have cancer are either a) Why is this happening TO ME and b) I'm going to beat THIS THING. When you talk to fellow sufferers, the cancer within them is referred to as a sort of alien. I think we associate with the scene in the film where the monster bursts forth from John Hurt's stomach. Since starting this series of blogs, I've had all manner of responses. I had wondered whether anyone would be interested in my views and feelings on the subject. The blog stats tell me that I get hundreds of hits a week, mostly driven by google searches. People who arrive and read one blog entry on cancer tend to read them all. I also get quite a few emails, from people in the far reaches of the earth. Some of these are trying to encourage me to try (or plug) products. Some of these are trying to sell me religion (I've got one already that I'm quite happy with thanks), but most are simply thanking me for writing the blog, offering support or giving helpful practical advice based on their own experiences.
As I said above we all want to understand why this has happened and we all want to beat it. Cancer happens to us for a variety of reasons. These include, genetic, environmental and dietry influences. It is also clear that stress plays some role in the triggering of the mechanism which causes cancer to grow. What this means is that if you have a family history of a certain type of cancer, it makes sense to ensure you do what you can to detect it early. If you have a lifestyle which is likely to increase your chances of getting a certain type of cancer, it makes sense to try and modify it and watch for signs that you may be developing the disease. This is to some extent, stating the obvious. What hasn't been investigated with such interest is why certain people with genetic predisposition to cancer or high risk lifestyles don't get the disease whilst other people in seemingly lower risk groups do? In my case, I have no factors which indicate a risk toward Prostate cancer, but it could well be that because my father died aged 69 of a heart attack, he didn't live long enough for the symptoms to show? Just suppose I'd had a genetic screening fifteen years ago and they'd told me I was likely to develop the disease, what would I have done? I guess that if they'd said it was likely I'd develop it in fifteen years, nothing at the time. If they had said "cut down on eggs and dairy products and increase your intake of antoxidants, then it may develop later" would I have listened. I would like to think I would.
We all have choices to make. Some people don't eat brocolli because they don't like the taste of texture. Some people wouldn't eat it, even if they thought it may be the difference between developing cancer or not. Just about everyone who smokes knows the risks, but believes that they will not be one of the unlucky majority who smoking affects. We recently saw protests by parents at a school where unhealthy food options had been banned. Parents protested because their children were being forced to eat vegetables they didn't like. Many claimed that their children never ate vegetables at home, so why should they at school. Do the parents realise that there is a strong link between a poor diet and cancer? If the children grow up and develop the disease, they will, like me say "why did I get cancer". They will probably, like me, say to themselves "it is so unfair". The sad truth is that fairness doesn't come into it. Getting cancer is a game of chance. The one thing we can say is that by eating a healthy diet we can improve our chance of not developing the disease. Sadly we are bombarded with a wall of anecdotal evidence, which flies in the face of medical statistics "my mum smoked like a chimney till she was a hundred and then she died in a parachuting accident" type stories abound.
We all know people who have been freakishly lucky or unlucky at some point. Do we base our important life choices on their experience? My father was a bomber pilot and new airmen who had the most amazing survival stories, but the airmen knew they had been lucky. Most ascribed their survival to a lucky St Christophers medal or rabbit foot. Many believed they had been spared for a reason. My father attended regular squadron reunions until his death. He would always return with a story of someone who had defied logic and reason to live. Sadly the statistics show that 55,000 men didn't have the luck. The point is that we can't always help ourselves, sometimes luck plays a part, but if you were in the RAF in the second world war, the safest job was a desk job. If you were part of a bomber crew, you needed luck to survive. In the war against cancer, would you rather the "boring desk job" lifestyle, of low risk, no ciggies, nine organic vegetables a day and antoxidants or do you go for the "bomber crew" lifestyle of ciggies, processed meats, carbonated drinks, fried foods and saturated fats. It may be more fun, but when you get shot down it suddenly is much less fun.
One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is "I'm not afraid of dying". The sad issue with cancer is that dying is the easy part. It is the living with it that is hard. Having watched a friend die earlier this year, I am under no illusions as to why I must change my lifestyle. Why I must drink the green tea and pomegranite juice. I believe that even when you have the disease, adopting a healthy lifestyle can only improve your prospects. It is a numbers game and a lottery. It is one you can alter the odds in.
Recently people have repeatedly told me I am looking great. Most don't know I have cancer and have asked me what diet I'm on or what my secret is. They are rather confused when I tell them. The fitness work I've done seems to have paid off. On Thursday I scored nine goals in our five a side kickabout, a record for me. As my PSA has dropped for the last two visits to the doctor, I am feeling positive right now. That doesn't mean I'm complacent. I ensure I have five cups of green tea a day and a glass of pomegranite juice. Our vegetables are all organic. As for stress levels, well that is a work in progress, but I am not someone who can sit still for very long.
It's not all doom and gloom (apart from the weather). Stay positive. Do what you can to improve your chances and above all, if you haven't got cancer, make sure you take advantage of screening, so you get detected early. Have a great weekend.